A reciprocal guest post from writer and friend Alienora Taylor. As always, she pulls no punches.
As a society, we become ever more desensitised, cynical and, at heart, disempowered. This concerns me hugely. Let me give you a very recent, and concrete, example. Yesterday, I posted a piece on my blog concerning a form of abuse: The cyber version, from which I have now suffered thrice. At the same time, my friend, Sue Vincent, posted her own, very moving and disturbing, piece about emotional abuse.
To be fair, we both got some positive, kind and supportive responses – from men and women – but I was shocked by the silence which followed our corporate appeal. I was particularly worried by a subsection of the possible spectrum of response – one which I am increasingly aware of: The need, by some people, to trivialise the experiences of other people. Thus, I got, from a couple of people, variations on the, ‘It’s nothing. Happens all the time. You are over-reacting!’ theme.
Now, I am sorry if this next bit sounds a tad strident – but, really! The fact that something allegedly ‘happens all the time’ does not make it all right. The fact that men can post pictures of their private parts on line, in an attempt to intimidate women, should not, in my view, be taken lightly, or dismissed as, ‘just one of those things’.
Is this not precisely the kind of mindset which allowed us to turn a blind eye to the burgeoning evidence of the Holocaust seventy years ago? And is it not, also, the kind of semi-deliberate myopia which allows us to ignore so much suffering in the world today?
The tragic thing is this: Abuse, death, genocide, war – have all become cheap media currency in a sense. Day after day, week after week, we are bombarded by the most appalling images of the depths to which the human imagination can sink. Sated by the ‘normal’, the loving, the kind; cynical in our response to all that is kind and positive in life, we increasingly look, for our kicks and our highs, to the perverted, the dark, the violent.
As Sue put is so eloquently in her post, we have developed this ghastly Someone Else’s Problem way of seeing life. Our psychic skin has become so thickened, and callus-ridden, and we so callous, that we will tie ourselves in knots to downgrade the horror, sneer at the tears of others and pretend that we cannot see what is really going on.
We have become a society all too ready to blame, to judge, to assume that people ask for the pain they experience in their lives. Compassion is becoming an outdated concept, almost a dirty word. There is more and more emphasis placed upon what I refer to as the Grow a Pair way of thinking: Castigated if you do not show a tough hide; punished if you do not get over a wound – whether it be physical or psychological – immediately. Our hospitals have an ever-speedier through-put of patients, in order to free up the beds for the next surge. Our schools have less and less tolerance and patience for the damaged, the less intelligent, the children whose spirits do not fit with the overall greyness of the modern educational tube.
We are very good at saying, with all the right emphases, ‘Oh, that’s awful!’ when apprised of a disaster, a personal crisis, a tragedy.
But, unless we are willing to put our metaphorical money where our actual mouths are, what the hell is the value of such shallow sympathy?
Easy to say, isn’t it? Costs us nothing but a few wrinkles of the lips, a little exercise of the tongue.
I do think, however, that much of this way of behaving stems from fear: Fear, often so deeply buried that we are not even aware of it. There is the very real terror of being hurt, or deprived of money/possessions/respect/friends/job.
Getting involved can be enormously stressful, and fear-inducing; it can be exhausting and, at times, depressing.
But, I think we humans form communities for a reason. We need that sharing, that caring, that willingness to be a large family of interconnected people. And its loss from our lives has been a global body-blow.
Twenty four years ago, when I was attacked, an elderly man literally walked by on the other side of the street. He did not come to my aid. I do not blame him, but I do think it is a potent metaphor in terms of our behaviour.
Perhaps he thought I was making a fuss about nothing.
It is very easy to see other people’s responses as over-reaction, and one’s own as legitimate, isn’t it?
But, every time we metaphorically stay on our side of the street, every time we dismiss someone else’s feelings or trivialise a friend’s suffering, we are contributing to the societal malaise of our time, and adding yet another epidermal layer of insensitivity.
And I don’t want to do that anymore. Do you?